Stranger danger right? As much as the idea scares young parents, it is much more likely your child will be pulled away from family, friends and God by a predator. Predators are slick, savvy and often subtle at first. Not all of them are sexual predators, but they are all dangerous in their own ways.
Thankfully, there are ways you can protect your kids from being targeted by predators as their victims or their enablers (enablers are often used to help the predator recruit more victims). Predators look for some key characteristics in their prey. If your children don’t have them, predators will often ignore them in favor of easier victims.
- Give your kids lots of emotional and physical attention. Predators look for young people who don’t feel connected to their parents. Often these kids are run aways, but predators also target kids from families where the parents are too busy with their own lives to give their children the attention and love they need. If your child is well loved and has consistent, meaningful interactions with you and your spouse, they won’t be attracted by the attentions of a random adult.
- Give your kids a strong spiritual foundation. Many of the things predators use to attract kids and teens either won’t appeal to young people with strong spiritual foundations, or will at least set off warning bells. Kids who have a strong understanding of what God has declared right and wrong, know something is dangerous about an adult who is encouraging them to do things they know are wrong. Most healthy adults, protect young people from those things – even if they’re not Christians and participate in them themselves.
- Reinforce constantly that your kids can tell you anything – even if they know you won’t like it. Predators often use fear of parental reaction to manipulate young people. Make it clear that if any adult asks your child to do something they know is wrong, they will not get in trouble for telling you. Often predators will blackmail kids they meet online by threatening to tell them they were spending money on video games or something similar. Make sure your kids understand that while there may be consequences for those minor infractions, you are more concerned that they are safe and not being manipulated by someone who wants to hurt them.
- Help your kids establish and defend healthy boundaries. They should be comfortable declining to participate in activities they know are wrong and be willing to be firm and walk away to get help if necessary. (This skill set also helps with peer pressure.)
- Teach your kids about the lobster in the pot. Or is it a frog? Either way, the heat is turned up so gradually, the animal doesn’t realize it is in danger of being cooked and eaten until it is too late. Predators don’t usually start at the end goal. They start where the person is and encourage them to stretch their boundaries over time. Teach your kids to be watchful of anyone who keeps encouraging them to go just a little bit beyond what they know is right.
- Teach your kids to be careful around people who make promises that sound too good to be true or who flatter them too much. “Free” things often come with strings attached. Predators will often “give” kids lots of things and then tell them they owe them an impossible amount of money. They tell the young person, they can be repaid (without parents finding out) if they will “just” …fill in the blank with send nude photos, run drugs, etc. Predators also use flattery and praise in their recruitment process. If your child is average looking, being told they have the looks to be a “top model” may feel good, but many young people have lost lots of money on “modeling” lessons from predators who knew they had no real chance in the industry.
- Teach your kids critical thinking skills. Cults can be just as dangerous as other predators. They hide their motives in words of altruism and higher purpose. Often their actual beliefs are strange – especially compared to scripture. Kids with strong critical thinking skills will often ask lots of questions before just accepting something new. Cult leaders and other predators don’t appreciate questions as it can cause trouble with those they are already preying upon. They will often reject questioners outright as “not ready” for whatever it is they are claiming to offer.
- Teach your kids that they may not make great decisions when afraid or elated. There are very few choices that absolutely must be made in the moment. Teach them to ask for time to think about it. If the person says “no”, there is a very good chance someone is trying to manipulate them in some way.
- Teach your kids that drugs and alcohol do not lead to great decisions. Predators use alcohol and drugs to lower the inhibitions of their prey. They know people will do things when drunk or high they would never do when sober.
- Teach your kids to distance themselves from people whom they regularly catch lying. Predators lie….a lot. In fact, they are pathological about it. Young people need to avoid people who lie constantly – even if they aren’t predators. They just don’t have enough maturity and life experience to handle it.
- Don’t allow your kids to view themselves as victims of others. Yes, your kids may have had an experience when they were someone’s victim. Defining oneself as a perpetual victim makes them very vulnerable to predators. Young people who allow themselves to be defined as a victim because of any number of factors, believe they have no voice and no power. That makes them vulnerable. God can help your kids process and move away from bad circumstances so they are defined by how God sees them and not as a perpetual victim.
- Teach your kids to recognize and avoid narcissists. Predators often use enablers to identify new prey and help groom them for the predator. For some reason, these people are often narcissists. Everything is about what they need and want. The feelings and needs of others are meaningless to them. They often act in cruel ways to anyone who questions them or asks for parity. Young people don’t have the tools to handle the narcissists of the world. They need to spend as little time with them as possible.
- Teach your kids to think carefully if friends and family are all expressing concerns about their relationship with someone. Yes, there are rare times when they will be wrong. In general though, if everyone who loves you is concerned, there may very well be something to be concerned about. Teach them to at the very least take a break from the person of concern so they can clear their head and think clearly.
- If necessary, teach your kids to ignore any threats to you and come tell you what is happening. In the more severe cases of predators, victims are often told their family will be hurt in some way if they tell anyone what is really happening. Make sure your kids know that you will get the help you need to be safe, but you can’t help them if you don’t know they are in trouble.
No one can guarantee your child will never be approached by a predator. Doing the things in the list above though, will make your kids much less attractive to predators looking for prey.